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California Step Closer to Morro Bay Floating Wind Lease Sale

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued a finding of no significant impacts (FONSI) to environmental resources from potential offshore wind energy leasing activities in the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area (WEA), located off the coast of San Luis Obispo County in central California. 

Illustration; Photo source: Principle Power (archive)

On 5 October, the Bureau announced it had completed its Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Morro Bay WEA, which assesses potential impacts from the issuance of leases within the area.

The EA considers potential environmental consequences of site characterisation and site assessment activities, as well as project easements associated with potential leases and related right-of-way grants for subsea cable corridors in the Morro Bay WEA.

The completion of the final EA brings the leasing area, which could accommodate 3 GW of floating wind capacity, a step closer to a lease sale which is planned to be held by the end of this year, according to earlier information.

“The completion of our environmental review is an important step forward to advance clean energy development in a responsible manner while promoting economic vitality and well-paying union jobs in central California”, said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton. “We will continue to work closely with Tribes, state and federal partners, and key stakeholders to ensure any future development avoids or minimizes potential impacts to the ocean and other ocean users in the region”.

In May, BOEM issued a Proposed Sale Notice (PSN) for potential commercial wind energy development at up to five areas within the the Morro Bay WEA and Humboldt WEA in California, opening a public comment period to gather further information before issuing a Final Sale Notice (FSN).

The PSN also revealed the bidders who qualified to participate in the lease sale by that time, with a total of 23 offshore wind developers on the list for the two WEAs.

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Following the issuance of FONSI and the final EA, BOEM said that if the Bureau decided to conduct a lease sale in the Morro Bay WEA, it would develop an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before approving the construction of any offshore wind energy facility.

That EIS will analyse the specific environmental consequences associated with the project, in consultation with Tribes, appropriate federal, state, and local agencies, and stakeholders and the public.

In June this year, the California Coastal Commission approved offshore wind activities in Morro Bay and Humboldt Bay that will result from the upcoming lease sale for five areas located in the waters offshore central and northern California.

Under its federal consistency review authority, the Coastal Commission evaluated whether the leasing process proposed by BOEM is consistent with the California Coastal Act, including site investigations that those who win at the auction will be conducting as well as the potential future lease development activities, including construction and operation of offshore wind farms.

The approval came around a month after the California Energy Commission (CEC) set a preliminary target of 3 GW of (floating) offshore wind by 2030, with an aim to have up to 15 GW installed by 2045. In August, the CEC increased this to 2-5 GW by 2030 and 25 GW by 2045.

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Last month, the Biden-Harris Administration set a target for the US to install 15 GW of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035, building on the country’s existing goal of 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030, which will be largely met using bottom-fixed technology.

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